Game piece (music)

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Game piece is a concept of experimental music having its roots with composers Iannis Xenakis, Christian Wolff[need quotation to verify] and John Zorn. Game pieces may be considered controlled improvisation.[1][page needed] An essential characteristic is that there is no pre-arranged sequence of events. They unfold freely according to certain rules, like in a sports game. Therefore, game pieces have elements of improvisation. A number of methods can be used to determine the direction and evolution of the music, including hand gestures and shuffled cards, as in his file-card compositions. Zorn's game piece "Cobra", which has been recorded several times for various labels, uses a combination of cards and gestures and can be performed by an ensemble of any size and composition. Zorn's game pieces, written in the late 1970s and mid-1980s, include Cobra, Hockey, Lacrosse, and Xu Feng.[1] His file-card compositions include Spillane and Godard.[1]

As well as a sports game, a game piece may also be considered analogous to language: The performance is directed by a well-defined set of rules (a grammar) but by no means fixed or predetermined (just as all sentences generated by the same grammar are not the same). The length of a piece may be arbitrary, just as a sentence can be of any imaginable length while still conforming to a strictly defined syntax.

In Formalized Music (1992), Iannis Xenakis mentions two pieces in his oeuvre that utilize game theory: Duel (1959) and Stratégie (1962).[2] This first of these, Duel, involves an orchestra that is broken into two groups, each with a separate conductor. Each conductor chooses from a palette of six modules, and points are assigned to each conductor based on the combinations of modules that occurred. Stratégie expands this process to a larger orchestra, and it simplifies the rules to make performance easier.[3]


  1. ^ a b c Brackett, John. John Zorn: Tradition and Transgression, p.xi. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2008. ISBN 978-0-253-22025-7.
  2. ^ Xenakis, Iannis (1992). Formalized Music. Stuyvesant, NY: Pendragon Press. pp. viii. 
  3. ^ Harley, James (2011). Xenakis: His Life in Music. New York: New York. pp. 23–24. 
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  • Beresford, Steve: "John Zorn interviewed", in: Resonance. Published by London Musician's Collective vol.2, nr. 2, summer, 1994.
  • Cox, Christoph and Warner, Daniel: "The Game Pieces", in: Audio Culture: Readings in Modern Music, New York (Continuum), 2004, pp. 196–200.
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  • Solothurnmann, Jürg: "Trickfilmmusik" (1986), Landolt, Patrik; Wyss Ruedi (ed.): Die lachenden Aussenseiter. Musikerinnen und Musiker zwischen Jazz, Rock und neuer Musik. Die 80er und 90er Jahre. Ein Buch der Wochenzeitung (WOZ) im Rotpunktverlag. Zürich (Rotpunktverlag), 1993.
  • Tetsu, Shiba: Two Game Pieces (English and Japanese versions).
  • Watrous, Peter: sleeve notes for John Zorn: Cobra. 2 LP-sæt, hatART 2034, 1986.
  • Whitehead, Kevin, "A Field Guide To Cobra," Pulse!, November 1994.
  • Xenakis, Iannis. Formalized Music. Stuyvesant, NY: Pendragon Press, 1992.